Duncan Sones, of the Africa Soil Health Consortium (ASHC) delivery team, looks back on six years of concept and project development that could unlock changes in farmer’s ability to effectively access improved technologies…

I don’t know about you but when I hear about something for the first time, I rarely take in all the nuanced details. However, ask me to sing an advertising jingle for a store than hasn’t existed for 40 years and I am probably able to sing it! My father knew all of the kings and queens of England in order. Well he did and he didn’t – he knew a rhyme that he could reel off 75 years after he learned it!

My point is that we understand that what we retain is based on more than our need for the information. It is significantly impacted by the way that the information is organised and ordered, so that it sticks in our minds.

Yet, in over 10 years of working in international development I have seen few attempts by scientists and communications professionals (myself included) to use memory aides to create a level of stickiness. The one example that comes to mind is the ‘4 R’s of fertiliser.’

CABI’s leadership of the Africa Soil Health Consortia (ASHC), has given us the chance to develop some information communications technology tools that may support a more gendered approach to sharing knowledge.

Packing information for young people

The sort of low input farming undertaken by many households in sub-Sahara Africa is a pretty thankless way to eke-out an existence. Not surprisingly, young people have not seen farming as an aspirational way to build their livelihood.

Over the past three years, CABI, along with number of other agricultural projects in Tanzania, has worked with Shujaaz to create a new dialogue with young people.

Comic Connections poster

Shujaaz is a youth communications platform using cool approaches (comics and social media) to pass on trusteed information to young people. Month by month they have a profile hustler (street slang for role models that are making a living – often out of a passion or interest) making money from agriculture. Slowly the conversation has changed and young people in Tanzania can now see the idea of being an agricultural entrepreneur as a positive aspirational choice. Shujaaz is re-read, swapped and exchanged and with 500,000 issues it now gets to around 23% of the population of Tanzania over the course of a year. So, this is a big conversation.

For some time CABI has been working with filmmakers – but it is hard to find a style of presentation that is hard hitting, accurate and capable of tapping into popular culture.

In Ghana, ASHC has worked with Countrywise Communications to develop a number of music videos. The first of these is by the popular Hip-life duo the Choggu Boys. Hiplife is a Ghanaian musical style that fuses Ghanaian culture and hip hop. This is a genre that really lends itself to the dissemination of information. The Choggu Boys, Black Echo and Leo Khan, took the technical brief for growing soybean and turned it into a 5-minute pop song.

Filmmakers Countrywise Ghana then created a concept where Leo is a farmer starting to prepare to plant soybean and Black Echo realizes that Leo needs his help. So, through a series of call of response song elements, interspersed with a really catchy chorus, a pretty comprehensive set of information on soybean is shared.

The music video shares some characteristics with Shujaaz. They are both produced to really high production standards by skilled African artists able to speak directly to their peers. The other key factor is that the music is really good and the audience will come back to it time and time again. Associating agricultural with popular culture makes it cool by association, and there is some kudos in sharing these products with your peers.

The music video will be shared through social media and Bluetooth. It will be shown at film screenings across northern Ghana up to the 2018 soybean planting season.

Family-centered learning

In the run-up to the 2018 soybean planting season, a more conventional film set out the steps from land preparation to post-harvest storage and value-additions. Around 200 screenings took place.

CABI INTERNATIONAL_ Evans Ahorsu_TreyzKapture 067

Photo credit: Evans Ahorsu for CABI

The screenings generate great excitement in the villages. The evenings start at dusk with a series of lively music video that get the children interested. Then as the chores and the evening prayers are completed the parents arrive to watch the last of the music videos and the films. Interesting the timing and the child friendly nature of the event means that we consistently get more women than men attending the screenings.

Countrywise tell us the acid test of the films is whether the children sit quietly. If they do, it means the parents are interested in the content. Fortunately, our audiences sit very quietly taking in the content of the film!

The screening lasts for around 45 minutes. The films cover the latest technologies and techniques in legume cultivation to increase yields and incomes measures that can be taken to protect crops from the Fall armyworm caterpillar – which is causing losses across sub-Saharan Africa. The screenings are followed by question and answer sessions which are lively and last for an additional 60-90 minutes.

What is happening here is that the whole family is learning together. This means that the act of remembering is not vested in one person but shared. We hope this can increase both uptake and the quality of the uptake of new technologies. Sharing information more equitably in farming households may also lead to changes in the way decisions are made in the household.

Film viewing figures

Men Women School-aged children Total
20,058 23,618 27,142 70,818


28% 33% 38%  

*Figures based on 300 village-based screenings over 2 years in 3 regions of Northern Ghana.

Stepwise approaches

Whilst we often think of gender in terms of men or women, or by age, perhaps the most important gender categorisation is in terms of access to financial resources. In vast numbers of African farming households, financial resources are very constrained. Yet we seldom attempt to make allowances for this in the technologies we share. For example, development communication materials will often talk about a technology package that costs $100 an acre to implement.

In reality, farmers may have $10 – so what should they do? Should they attempt to apply the full recommendations on 10% of the plot or the 10% of the recommendation to the whole plot?

What farmers need are stepwise recommendations which start from what they have to invest and make practical recommendations on how the funds they have can work hardest to bring the maximum return on investment. Working with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the leading agricultural research agencies in 13 sub-Saharan countries, CABI commissioned a phone-app that helps to do just this.

The Fertilizer Optimization Tool asks farmers a few questions about what they can invest in fertilizer, what they need to grow for home consumption and land they have available. This allows the advisor to use the app to customise recommendations for each household that will maximise their return on investment in fertilizer across their farms. This in turn means that, all things remaining equal, their income will increase and more funds can be invested back into the farm to drive-up yields and profits.

CABI is using traditional and digital media to target more nuanced information at women, young people and families in ways that stick. And it is using phone apps to make recommendations that provide stepwise investment strategies to farmers based on exactly what they can afford to invest. CABI will be sharing more lessons as these prototype approaches are more fully tested over the coming seasons.

Additional information

Choggu Boys’ rap video on the soybean

Find out more about the videos shown to farmers in Ghana to help protect their soybean crops from the Fall Armyworm in this news story on ‘A night at the movies: with soybean and Fall armyworm as stars of the show’.

For more information about the Africa Soil Health Consortium please visit:

Learn more about the Fertilizer Optimization Tool and how it could empower 50 million African families in this news story on here:

1 Comment

  1. Donna Hutchinson on 30th August 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Reblogged this on The Plantwise Blog.

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